Some of the most common terms used in web design and development are HTML, HTML5 and XHTML. However, those who are new to the Web often admit having a hard time differentiating between HTML vs HTML5 vs XHTML. In addition, there is often confusion as to which of these languages ​​to start learning for a novice.

It’s no wonder that such confusion persists – all three are markup languages, performing essentially the same task. For those who would like to know more about this subject, this article will clarify the main terms in more detail.


Understanding markup languages

A markup language is a fundamental tool that facilitates the creation of any web page. If a web page needs to display structured information, such as text or images, tagging that web page is the way to do it. The process and practice of web design normally suggests that different parts of the text are displayed with different functionality applied – font, size, color, etc.

Meanwhile, it is also necessary to have full markup, so that a web page looks and works the same, regardless of the browser in which it is viewed. This creates the demand for a common markup language to easily display the necessary information.



Markup languages ​​are made up of smaller building blocks – tags – that allow data to be displayed in the correct format. Tags control how information on a web page is displayed – from the subtle visuals to the overall structure of the page. There are specific tags to define web page elements such as header, body, paragraph and many more.



The most common markup language today is HTML. It was designed by the inventor of the World Wide Web himself – Tim Berners-Lee. The name – HTML – is an abbreviation, which stands for HyperText Markup Language, and it was the first markup language used to create and display web pages.

Shortly after its creation, HTML experienced rapid development and its later versions became a standard for markup languages. Over time, it has evolved through a number of milestone versions, but all of these versions up to HTML4 are commonly referred to as HTML. This draws a line between the previous versions and the next and currently the latest version of HTML – HTML5 – highlighting a significant difference between them.



It should be noted that before the release of HTML5, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) started to develop an extension of the basic HTML, merging it with the XML format. This was to resolve some compatibility issues encountered by browsers at the time.

HTML and XML are two standard markup languages, very similar in function. However, the latter is different in that it is more stringent in error handling and formatting. The resulting language has always shown great resemblance to HTML4 but has introduced more stringent additional rules. It was called XHTML.


Differences between HTML vs XHTML vs HTML5

We’ve looked at the function and evolution of these three markup languages, so it’s time to explore the specific differences between them in more depth.



Created by a group called WHATWG, HTML5 was designed as an improvement over older versions of HTML, intended to address some of the compatibility issues between existing browsers. Here are some of the main differences between HTML and HTML5:

  • HTML5 provides better support for different types of media – for example, audio and video. This is done by providing additional tags for the multimedia files. However, HTML does not support these tags and rather depends on third-party plug-ins.
  • HTML5 allows Javascript to run in the browser – a feature previously unavailable in HTML. This new feature is called native JavaScript support, and it enables better web page design and an improved user experience. This was achieved by introducing the JS Web Worker API and this functionality is based on the use of front-end scripts.
  • HTML5 has introduced new entry attributes, including email, URLs, date and time, and search, to name a few.
  • HTML5 has better browser compatibility than HTML. It is also independent of the device.
  • HTML5 adopts superior word processing rules, also known as analysis. This allows for much greater analysis flexibility than HTML.
  • HTML5 now makes it easy to find placements without the need for third-party plugins.
  • HTML5 provides native support for vector graphics. This reduces the need for third-party software, such as Adobe Flash.

Simply put, the newly introduced features make HTML5 a better version of HTML, upgraded with new features and functionality.



XHTML is basically an extension of HTML. You can think of it as an updated, stricter version of HTML4. Therefore, there are not too many differences between the two. Below we have listed some of the most notable:

  • HTML accepts that certain elements do not contain the closing tag. XHTML expects all elements without exception to include a closing tag. (Note: a closing tag is added to the end of an element, such as a paragraph. They generally consist of the name of the element preceded by a backslash. Thus, an opening tag of a paragraph is <p>, and closing the tag is </p>)
    XHTML, unlike HTML, does not allow elements to overlap.
  • XHTML requires that all attribute values ​​(for example, font size) be cited – even numeric values. There is no such requirement in HTML.
  • For a document to be valid XHTML, attributes cannot be minimized.
  • There are also some minor differences in the way the two languages ​​handle empty items.

The differences mentioned above are among the most obvious. The full list is significantly longer, however, it consists, to a large extent, of features too subtle to be encountered on a daily basis. These can be explored in more detail by referring to the XHTML documentation. The main thing to remember is that XHTML was developed to correct certain shortcomings in HTML by introducing certain XML functionalities.



As you already know, XHTML and HTML are very similar, which means that most of the differences between HTML and HTML5 also apply to HTML5 and XHTML. However, there is another variation between the two:

  • XHTML is case sensitive (identical to HTML), unlike HTML5.
  • XHTML and HTML have a more complex doctype than HTML5. (Note: doctype tells browsers how to interpret the data.)
  • HTML5 is compatible with all browsers. XHTML is not.
  • HTML5, being a successor to HTML, is much more flexible than XHTML.
  • XHTML is better suited for desktop computers, while HTML5 is better suited for mobile devices – smartphones and tablets.



To summarize, the three – HTML, HTML5 and XHTML are markup languages, each with a particular subset of functionality. XHTML and HTML5 were developed as improved versions of HTML4. XHTML was designed to incorporate certain features of XML, while with the development of HTML5 we saw a range of significant improvements that make it the best markup language of the three, and by far the most widely used today .

An important point to remember is that the three languages are only variants of the same HTML standard, but incorporate different syntactic rules and functionalities. For those new to web design, it is recommended that you ignore XHTML and HTML4 and continue to learn HTML5 instead due to its widespread use and improved functionality.

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